Who runs the World?

I had an absolutely brilliant day on Thursday at the first ever national Scottish Conference organised by the Women 50/50 Campaign and Engender entitled Who runs the World.

Women from all over the country gathered in Edinburgh’s MacDonald Hotel to discuss politics, the media, getting involved in councils and public appointments and ensuring that all areas of our public and political life had at least 50% women running them. There was a keynote speech from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said that the Women 50/50 campaign was one of the most significant campaigns in Scotland today.

I’m going to write in more detail about some of the sessions later but here are some of the highlights.

How sexism stops women fulfilling their ambitions

There were two panel sessions during the day. The first, in the morning, discussed participation in and portrayal of women in the media. One of the journalists on the panel, Gina Davidson, told us how she had wanted to the crime reporting job on the paper she was working for. She was turned down for that and given health. Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon had come into Parliament desperate to get on the Audit Committee. Her request was denied by the leadership and she ended up with health, a subject that she knew nothing about. Having said that, she has developed quite an affinity with it – she intends to spend her retirement volunteering for a mental health project. Even so, women are often directed into areas traditionally seen as theirs.

Working across parties

It’s great when women from all parties get together. We find out that we share a lot of the same frustrations and come across the same behaviours across politics. There was some talk on whether there should be a formal Women’s Caucus at Holyrood, something that the MSPs there thought could be useful. There are already examples of cross party working. Labour leader Kezia Dugdale talked about having a quiet word with then Employment Minister Angela Constance (also on the panel) after she’d noticed that all the photos on the construction page of Skills Development Scotland showed men wearing hard hats. Angela went and got it changed.

Over-representation of men = lack of legitimacy

One of the themes of the day was that you can’t really claim to have a proper democracy if you aren’t representing half the population, if the lived experiences of half the population are not part of the political debate.

Nicola Sturgeon talked about all the emails she’d had after she’d announced her gender balanced cabinet. She got a few asking if the women she’d appointed to cabinet positions had got there on merit. She observed that she didn’t have one single email asking her if the men had got there on merit.

There was a lot of myth busting and presenting of evidence as to why quotas work. I want to see them put it together in some sort of “Quota-pedia” as a reference point for people who need it to convince sceptical audiences.

Professor Drude Dahlerup, from the Political Science Department at Stockholm University talked us through quotas round the world. Certainly they were controversial, but they turned out to be popular – and they clearly worked at delivering a parliament where men were no longer so massively over-represented.

She also said that the legislation was most effective when there were real sanctions against parties who failed to comply. They didn’t seem to mind paying fines for not putting up a gender balanced slate of candidates, she said, but if the were simply banned from standing if they didn’t, it soon  concentrated their minds. If that all sounds a bit draconian, consider the Representation of the People Act and the sanctions and potential loss of liberty if you spend too much money or don’t submit an expenses return. This is no different.

Challenging the Blokesphere

I asked a question in the media panel:

There were lots of useful suggestions for dealing with the trolling that we all experience. Susan Stewart said:

There was a real solidarity in the room around those things.

Moray House Head of School Dr Rowena Arshad suggested a solution to our very male dominated comments threads here:

Helping other women

Another key theme of the day was that of helping and encouraging the next generation of women politicians. Green MSP Alison Johnstone said it hadn’t occurred to her to run for office until another woman suggested it. Everyone highlighted the importance of taking other women with you.

In a day of inspiring speakers, Rowena Arshad was one of my favourites. She’s the first female BAME head of a School of Education in Scotland. Until she took over, no woman had ever received an honorary doctorate from Moray House, and it had been going for over 200 years. She made that happen.

She was passionate about ensuring that you use your position of authority to do good. She says that we don’t have them for long so we have to make the most of them.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. I was sad that I couldn’t stay for the Comedy and Cupcakes event in the evening but if anyone wants to review that, they are more than welcome to do so.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • We also need to fight for parity of esteem for work traditionally done by women. Perhaps then more men will want to get in on the act!

    If your job has been a full-time mum a human resources’ department will call that time a “gap in the cv” and the government will call you “economically inactive”. 75% of work in residential care is done by women and 87% of professional dementia care is provided by women. As a result care/dementia care is work accruing pitiful pay and “untouchable” status.

  • Ruth Bright
    Just saying you are a full time mum or dad rightly means very little to a human resources officer. Explain about things you have achieved – with or without your children – or hobbies and interests you have had during that period and you might get their attention. As for carers in residential homes being low paid it is more likely because basically anyone with a caring nature who works hard can do the job. Very little training or qualifications are required, nurses and social workers are caring jobs normally done by women and are well paid because of all the training involved.

  • @ malc “As for carers in residential homes being low paid it is more likely because basically anyone with a caring nature who works hard can do the job”. Err, no.

    Fact is its because so much of elderly care has been privatised to billionaire businesses as a consequence of cuts in local government expenditure by central government with local Social Work Directors putting contracts out to tender at knock down prices. Every corner is being cut in the name of profit. This has happened under successive governments and resulted in poorly qualified persons employed on (or sometimes below) the minimum wage. Time after time we have damning reports and scandals discovered by CQC such as the Winterbourne affair..

    The Southern Cross affair was a disgrace four years ago……………. and now we face another even bigger impending collapse of Four Seasons being put into hock by hedge funds. This will be compounded by George Osborne not knowing his right hand from his left hand by…. a) cutting local government finance yet further, and ….b) imposing a new national minimum wage on care homes without the cash to pay for it..

    Adult senior care is about to implode ……………. and its time the politicians woke up.

  • Conor McGovern 14th Nov '15 - 3:10pm

    In answer to the title: whoever has the money.
    Touching on the article, we need more voices like Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone standing up for gender equality and doing something about it.

  • David Raw
    Actually nearly anyone with a caring nature who works hard could do the job. However, I accept that in an ideal world staff would be better paid for what is very demanding work. As for the damning reports you talk about thankfully they are rare and most homes are run to at least a satisfactory standard with caring staff. I do agree with you that adult senior care is close to imploding through lack of funding. I’m no fan of hedge funds, but in their residential care investments I think they have lost money. The main problem – as you point out – is cutting local government finance and the imposing new minimum wage. Homes are closing because of costs and people are living longer requiring more care, it will be a massive problem in the very near future.

  • Sorry Malc – I agree with most of your comments – but –

    Carers should be properly trained to deal with medication, bed sores, lifting, bathing, toileting and nutrition. They should also have appropriate language skills…………. on top of which they should be observant and aware of the various forms of dementia……….. not so simple. They sould also be vetted in terms of character and honesty.

    There have been plenty of cases where this has not applied. They also need to be well managed.

  • @ Caron

    Support what you’re trying to do but of the four biggest parties at Holyrood only the Lib Dems have a male leader (and the one female MSP has been badly treated). Patrick Harvie has Alison Johnson as deputy.

    Own house in order to be put !!

  • I think Nicola Sturgeon is the best thing to happen to women in politics – ever. Not only a great example of a female leader who dwarfs her male counterparts of all political colours but also someone who genuinely promotes and cares about other women. I wish she was our PM.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Nov '15 - 6:47pm

    I’ve become convinced that the pay-gap needs to be fully closed, but I don’t think gender roles can end entirely. As Ruth Bright says: “We also need to fight for parity of esteem for work traditionally done by women.”.

    There is a wider problem though that if the paygap is closed and men are still doing a lot of the most dangerous jobs such as in the military and have poorer attainment in education and a higher suicide rate then the equality movement for men will be boosted. I would like to work on all inequalities and not just wait until the paygap is closed before we become passionate about men’s issues too.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Nov '15 - 7:10pm

    @Phyllis: I have severe issues with the government she leads and its illiberal, awful record, but, I can’t help being a bit of a Nicola fangirl. She’s got charisma, competence and courage and I like her as a person and a politician. Scotland is blessed with much better political leaders than the UK generally. Kez Dugdale is pretty good too. I have gone slightly off Ruth Davidson, and Willie is fantastic too. I’ve never come across anyone better at listening and understanding people’s problems and saying the right thing. Please let’s just hope he never reads this:-).

  • I have to agree as a political leader Nicola Sturgeon is head and shoulders above the rest. I don’t like her policy on trident, but that apart she is very impressive. I know she is strong on women’s issues, but to be honest you get the feeling that she is fair to all people regardless of their sex.

  • Tony Greaves 14th Nov '15 - 11:13pm

    Just don’t get carried away with the idea that Nicola Sturgeon is in any way a Liberal, despite her “competence, charisma and courage” which are obviously very high. I think that the SNP are blessed with the two most capable leaders in UK politics. But I don’t think I would want to be in the same party as them. (Even though they are right on Trident!)

    I am a bit worried at the way health is written off here as a lesser function. It is surely now not only one of the highest profile political issues (and it will be a defining one in this (UK) Parliament) – if you add social care it must be on a par in importance with the Home Office and Foreign Office for instance.

    As for balanced slates, you can do this when you have electoral systems that have slates (ie lists). Neither FPTP/AV or STV lend themselves to balanced slates (unless you INSIST that parties put up two candidates for each STV seat, and frankly that is hardly appropriate).


  • Richard Underhill 15th Nov '15 - 8:24am

    Caron Lindsay | Sat 14th November 2015 – 11:58 am ” … you can’t really claim to have a proper democracy if you aren’t representing half the population, if the lived experiences of half the population are not part of the political debate.”
    This is true more generally. For instance the Aparthid regime in South Africa had a form of democracy in which the majority black population were not allowed to register to vote and the Indian and @mixed [email protected] Cape Coloured were sidelined into an irrelevant parliamentary body.
    In the USA people who are entitled to register to vote do not register and people who are registered do not vote resulting in a low turnout and democratic credentials undermined. As Shirley Williams said the process has been spoilt by money.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Nov '15 - 8:36am

    Tony Greaves 14th Nov ’15 – 11:13pm Enid Lakeman (from leafy Tunbridge Wells) saw STV as an important part of the answer and single member seats for the Commons as a major part of the problem.
    Scottish members should be aware that councils in England and Wales are still elected first past the post, sometimes in multi-member seats, simultaneously but non-transferable.
    If multi-member seats are right for MEPs in Northern Ireland (STV) and the rest of the UK ((party list) why should MPs be single member? Mainly because they have the self-interest and power to block reform.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Nov '15 - 9:13am

    Tony, health is not lesser in any way – it’s the #1 priority for most of the electorate. What is wrong, though, is that it’s seen as space that’s appropriate for women to be in, while areas like crime and audit are seen as the preserve of men. That’s the point I was making.

    And I agree with you about not wanting to be in the SNP – I couldn’t take that level of centralising control and illiberal instinct – although there are liberals in that party who aren’t voting for us because they don’t think we are welcoming to people who have a different view on the constitutional issues. Willie is doing stuff to challenge that thinking – and we end up being called appeasers by this new army of cyber-tories. Moral of story – when you can’t win, be extra liberal.

  • Caron Lindsay I am fascinated to see if Nicola Sturgeon and the influx of many new women will have a softening effect on the SNP and change it for the better. It will take time but if that does happen, heck I might even consider moving back to Falkirk! 🙂

    Malcolm yes I agree about Nicola. I don’t see Trident as being particularly vital, however, it hasn’t been much of a deterrence, as we sadly know only too well from these last 36 hours 🙁

  • If there were to be a woman PM and she had a baby – would it be ok for her to breast feed whilst taking PM questions?

  • Richard Underhill 15th Nov '15 - 10:30am

    Edward Heath put Margaret Thatcher in the cabinet at Education , whereas David Cameron put Nicola Morgan in the cabinet at Education.

  • We have a woman Home Secretary and if my memory serves me right Corbyn has appointed a woman as Shadow Defence Secretary. All the main political parties in Scotland bar the LibDems have women leaders, the Welsh Nats, Welsh LibDems and the Greens have women leaders. Women – thankfully – are not just doing well in Health and Education.

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